Latest reviews by Dodie Mercer

(2018)
"New Favorite Half Marathon!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my first time running a race in Philadelphia and I'm in love!

Expo: I caught an Uber to the expo because it seemed like parking may be tricky. I had a hard time finding which building of the convention center the expo was actually in. I team up with a woman I met that was also running the half. We went to three buildings before we found the right one,.

Packet pickup was a a breeze. I was in and out in under two minutes. The expo itself was what you would expect from a larger race. I took a quick picture with my bib and picked up some Honey Stingers for the race. The one thing that impressed me was all of the RnR medals for doing multiple races. They were in a glass display case. I've never seen anything like that before and now I kinda want to do multiple RnR races just to get one!

T-Shirt/Swag- The shirts were tech material which I'm not a fan of. They ran small but I opted not to exchange mine because I'll be donating it anyway. The swag itself was coupons. I miss the days when SWAG bags had food =(

Parking/Access- As I mentioned above I Ubered to the expo because we had been warned parking would be expensive. I opted for the same on race morning. I paid $16 between the two trips and saved myself a lot of headaches.

On race morning it was easy to find and get into the corrals. I liked having so many and staggering the start so it wasn't a big crush of people right off the bat. This was the best corral management I've every experienced.

Course Scenery- The first few miles of the race took us through downtown Philadelphia where you couldn't help but admire the architecture. The first few miles were very flat with a few small down hills.

We then headed out of town along the Schuylkill river. One of my favorite parts was going through a stone tunnel! It was very peaceful to be along the river. There were some runners on the path along the river as well as people out on the river rowing.

Eventually we crossed a bridge and headed back into town. I overheard someone saying "it's downhill from here. That include just kept going!" I actually felt like we were going DOWN on the way out not up. I live in Central PA and I'm use to running up a hill only to turn and have to run up another. This whole flat thing was very foreign to me.

Once we were on our way back into the city the sun came out. It had been cool yet humid up until then and I was not looking forward to running in open sun. Luckily we were only out in the open for a little bit before being saved by trees lining the road.

Before long we were back in the city crossing the finish right in front of the "Rocky Steps"!

After I crossed the finish line I was given a ton of food and drinks. They were handing out bananas, chips, hummus, soft pretzels, water, full bottles of Gatorade, chocolate milk, bagels, fruit snack and my personal favorite a wet wash cloth for the back of your neck! I've never been given so much swag after a race. However, I wish they would have handed out bags for it all. I didn't check a bag and I was by myself so it was a lot to carry.

I didn't stay at the finish long because it was starting to get hot out and there wasn't a lot of shade. A band was playing but I wasn't sure if it was the headlining band or not.

Elevation Difficulty- I kept bracing myself for some sort of hill. I knew the course was suppose to be flat but I though for sure with those downhills we were doing there would eventually be a hill to go up. I was wrong! I definitely want to come back to this course for a PR attempt in the future!

Aid Stations- There were plenty of aid stations on the course and I believe all of them had both Gatorade and water. A few of them had SIS gel which I tried but had to throw out. Not my jam.

Overall- Overall I loved this race. The course was beautiful, we were well supported along the way and the finish line was one of the best in terms of taking care of the runners.

Parking would have been tricky but I planned ahead to use Uber. That was the only drawback I could come up with.

If you're looking for a well run PR half course in the fall you really need to make a trip to Philadelphia!

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(2018)
"Tough Just Like the City"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my first year running the half. I've previously ran the full five times and even though I'm not from Pittsburgh I consider this a "hometown" event.

Expo: Another first for me this year was hitting up the expo Friday night. Previously I've come down on a Saturday. Since I was staying with friends this year I couldn't just part at the hotel and walk over. I had to park in the parking garage for the convention center were the expo was being held. This was a huge headache. I sat stuck in traffic for 45 minutes just trying to get into the parking garage. Once I finally got into the expo I was already running late for dinner with my friends so I just grabbed my bib and left. I had planned on going back in on Saturday but decided against it because I didn't want to fight with the traffic again. The expo is typically packed with great vendors but it's a shamed I stayed away simply because of the traffic and parking situation.

T-shirt/Swag: For the half I got a long sleeve shirt that was in my opinion pretty blah. It was the Pittsburgh Gold color with black lettering. I thought with it being the 10th running of the marathon it would have been something a little more special. I wound up wearing it as my throwaway race morning. I also received a plastic tumbler with the race logo on it. Our plastic race bags had a few goodies in them and we also received a virtual swag bag with some decent deals.

Parking/Access: I've already discussed the parking situation at the expo. I was lucky enough on race day to be with some friends that had access to a building downtown. In past years I've stayed downtown and found the start line easy to walk to.

Elevation Difficulty: Pittsburgh is known as being a hilly course. This was my first time running the race since the course changes. They didn't disappoint. It's still a hilly course with three bridge crossings.

Aide Stations: Overall the aide stations were pretty great. They were frequent and lined both sides of the course. I did however have to wait at two different stations for someone to pour me a cup of water. In their defense it was a very humid day.

Course Scenery: This race really allows you to see the city on foot. You cross all three rivers and cruise by the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers stadiums. The whole city turns out to cheer you on. I always say that this marathon is the closest you'll ever feel to a professional athlete. The crowd support is that good.

Race Management: Every race has it's hiccups but overall I think the management does a great job of hosting so many races over the course of the weekend.

Overall: I love this race. I have so many great memories from it over the years that it feels like a homecoming. It's tough but that's what Pittsburgh is about.

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(2018)
"Cold and Chaotic Cherry Blossom 10 Miler"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my first year running the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler so I didn't really know what to expect. I'd previously ran the Marine Corps Marathon so I wasn't a stranger to D.C. running.

Like MCM, the Cherry Blossom has a lottery system. If you plan to run this race make sure you plan ahead and sign up for their e-mails so you don't miss the lottery.

Early on we were made aware that the Metro would not be open prior to the start of the race. Knowing this I booked a pricey hotel to be within walking distance of the start line. We also found out that due to construction on the Washington Monument the staging area and the start line were going to be located at two different corners of the monument.

Not being from D.C. it was hard to keep up with what this all meant for race day. Luckily the race had a fantastic app that had everything from the expo schedule to weather alerts to exactly where to Uber to for the start line. I wish every big race would do this!

Expo

The expo was top notch. It was held at the National Building Museum which was a great change of scenery from the conventions centers expos are normally held in. The volunteers were great at making sure you knew where you were going. I was able to get in and get my bib with no wait in line.

It was a little smaller than some expos I've been to but all the major booths you would want to see where there. I was fortunate to see Joan Benoit Samuelson signing autographs and right in front of her was Meb Keflezighi sitting in the audience of one of the guest speakers. I wound up staying around to hear Meb and Deena Kastor even got up to say a few words before she went to her booth to sign autographs.

I was once at an expo with Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher but I think this may top that!

T-shirts/Swag

I opted for the cotton shirt over the tech shirt. There was an upcharge for the tech shirt. The cotton shirt was a simple grey with the race's logo on it. I also opted for a virtual swag bag. The offers in it were pretty good but nothing I was interested.

Shortly after the expo disaster struck for me. We lost my bib. I've never had this happen before. I was able to find an e-mail from the race that had a hotline number. I called it and within 15 minutes they had worked out a solution for me.

In the morning I headed to the staging area extra early and I was given a new bib at the volunteer tent. I'd like to thank the race management and volunteers for minimizing a very stressful situation for me.

Parking/Acess

I opted to Uber down because it was 5:45 and still dark when I left the hotel, A helpful volunteer pointed me to the volunteer tent right away.

After that things got tricky. The start line was a little ways away from the staging area and you couldn't see it from the staging area. I banded together with some people that were equally confused and we headed in the direction of the most people. It wasn't clear which way to go and there weren't any signs pointing either. Plus it was still a little dark out which added to the confusion. I know the monument being under construction wasn't ideal but more signage would have been helpful.

The corrals were crowded. More crowded than I ever remember any corral ever being. There were a lot of people on the outskirts of the corral because there wasn't enough room for everyone. People were also squeezing in between the gate which made things even tighter.

A crowded corral means it's going to be a crowded race. If you decide to run this race be prepared for that. I've ran some marathons that started out crowded but eventually thinned out. This wasn't the case. It was as crowded at the end as it was at the beginning.

Elevation Difficulty

This was a very flat race with one mini hill in the last half mile.

Course Scenery

This race is beautiful. Between the Cherry Blossoms and the monuments you were surrounded by beauty and history the whole time. You start and finish at the Washington Monument but you also run up along the one side of the Lincoln memorial, along the tidal basin that give a distant view of the Jefferson Memorial, you run right past the MLK Memorial and throughout the race you're surrounded by Cherry Blossoms, sometimes lining both sides of the street.

Aid Stations

The aid stations were perfect. There were enough volunteers at each one I stopped at and they offered both water and Gatorade.

One thing I was surprised about though was that there weren't a lot of cheering sections. Maybe I'm spoiled by some of the larger marathons I ran but I had though there would be more music and cheering sections. There were hardly any which I thought was odd. MCM had so many so I guess I assumed Cherry Blossom would too.

The finish line was full of cheering family and friends though. One odd thing was that the medals were not at the finish. They were way back at the staging area. Again more signage would have been helpful. I was really confused about where we needed to go. I've never ran a race that didn't have finisher medals at the finish line before.

Over all I enjoyed the race. The issues I had were mostly due to the Washington Monument being under construction. I do wish that there would have been more signage telling people where to go though. It was pretty confusing especially not being familiar with area around the monument. Hopefully this is something they improve on if the construction is still underway next year.

Add this race to your bucket list but keep in mind to plan ahead with entering the lottery and finding a hotel within walking distance. Though I was able to Uber down trying to get an Uber back to the hotel was out of the question due to the crowds.

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(2017)
"Wet and Wild"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my first race as a BibRave Pro and what an adventure!

Expo: The expo was kind of odd. It was in the Brewing District which had a ton of great places to eat, but hardly any parking. It was much smaller than I expected without a lot going on. I had a VIP pass so my pickup was upstairs.

Shirts/SWAG- They let us try on our shirt and jacket, which was great because they ran very small! I had to size up in both. The half zip jacket made the VIP package worth it. I appreciated that the shirt was a fitted t-shirt rather than a tech shirt. I dislike tech shirts.

Parking/Acess- As part of my BibRave Pro VIP I stayed at the Sheraton, which was the official hotel of the half! The start/finish was right outside our door!

Despite looming thunderstorms the race started on time. I hit up the pre race VIP tent, which had a very nice spread. I passed on the food and drinks and headed straight to the porta potties.

Course- I loved this course. It was fast and flat. Not a whole lot to look at, but it was raining pretty good.

Things got tricky around mile 7. A huge bolt of lightening shot in front of us on the course. We were told that the race would be halted and delayed for 15 minutes in the event of lighting but no one called us off the course.

It lightninged on and off for the next two miles. We crested a hill and the next thing I knew I was on the quarter marathon course not the half course. I thought I'd missed a turn and went to go back. A girl beside then said that we were being diverted because the race was cancelled. No official announcement was made by race security, people at aide stations or water stations. It was very unorganized and confusing.

I wound up completing 10.3 miles and received a finisher metal. The finishers were then shuffled in between two tall brick buildings to wait out the storm.

After Party- I made my way to the VIP after party just in time to grab a grilled cheese before sirens started blaring. They canceled the whole after party and told everyone to seek shelter.

There were some issues with checked bags as they were relocated to local running stores. This caused confusion and left some stranded. I was staying at the hotel so it was just a short walk for me.

I've never ran a race like this before. I think they could have come up with a clearer plan about what to do if the race was canceled. The weather didn't take us by surprise. We knew it was coming.

All and all I would do the race again. I liked the course and the after party looked like it would have been fun.

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(2015)
"Everyone Must Run This At Least Once"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I ran MCM in 2015 and as soon as I finished I knew I wanted to run it again.

Expo- The expo was impressive. I've ran six different marathons and this expo by far was the best. It was well organize and full of relevant vendors. Bart Yasso was there earlier in the day but we missed him.

Swag- The swag bags were ok but not great. I didn't care for the shirt which is a military style turtle neck.

Start Line- Getting to the start was an adventure of it's own. We stayed in Rosslyn so we were able to walk to the security check in within minutes. Walking past Arlington National Cemetery in the still dark morning is breathtaking. We arrived at the metal detectors early and were still met with longs lines. It began to rain and they began to malfunction. By the time we went through they were no longer working and we hand to be wanded instead.There were about a dozen metal detectors for thousand of people trying to enter at that location creating a horrible bottleneck. We later learned that the start line was left open for an extra hour due to issues with the metal detectors and an issue with the subway.

The metal detector fiasco was quickly forgotten as the opening ceremonies got underway. Huge American flags were parachuted in and helicopters flew by overhead. The excitement in the air was electric.

Course- The course starts out on a downhill (at least in 2015 it did) then you head out to Georgetown before turning around and coming back into DC.

Mile 12-13 is know as the Blue Mile. You're running along with plenty of crown support then all of a sudden things get quiet. The single lane road is lines with pictures of fallen soldiers. I knew of the Blue Mile and was prepare for it but what I wasn't prepared for was the photos. They weren't just of serviceman in uniform, a lot of them were in civilian clothes. High school graduation photos, soldiers holding their babies I was crying before long. In fact many people were. It was a completely silent mile expect for sounds of people overcome by their emotions.

At mile 15 the monuments start. First the Jefferson Memorial, then the Lincoln Memorial. You also see the National World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capital and the Smithsonian. The year I ran MCM I had ran Wineglass three weeks before. For MCM I took my time and plenty of pictures.

Mile 20 you get to "beat the bridge" which has a time cut off. You then head into Crystal City, which is by far the loudest part of the course.

One of the final sights is the Pentagon then you run up a slight hill (yes a hill!) to the finish at the base of the Ema Jima Monument.

At the finish a Marine issues you your medal, mission accomplished!

The medals are a beautiful rendition of the Marine compass symbol.

The water and aide stations were great. Many of them were manned by actual Marines.

There was a bit of confusion for the runners at the finish. You first had to wait in line for your medal before waiting in line for a poncho of sorts that was meant to be a heat blanket. By the time I got to them I was shivering severely having waited so long. You then had to go to another line to wait to get a food box and Gatorade.

Parking- Again our hotel was in Rosslyn so we only had a few blocks walk from the finish back to the hotel.

I would recommend this marathon to anyone. I've never been so energized or humble in a marathon. The sights alone make it a must due.

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